The Latest Office Technology For Flexibility & Productivity

The role played by technology in the office, and office design which works with the latest iterations of that technology, is something which might, at first glance, appear to be a technical and slightly esoteric topic. When you’re involved in the day to day to day stress of running your business, dealing with matters such as cash flow, employees and customer enquiries, issues such as the design of the desks and chairs your employees use can be all too easy to forget.

Davidson House flexible office space

Efficient and effective office design, incorporating proven technology, is about much more than the aesthetics of the space, however. Getting it right can have a positive impact on everything from the recruitment and retention of employees to well-being and productivity. In this article we’ll look at some of the evidence which backs up this idea and give examples of specific items of office architecture, design and technology and the impact they are likely to have.

Much of the literature on the topic relates to the creation of the ‘smart’ office, using the latest trends in automation and artificial intelligence – including things such as the internet of things – to create a space in which everything is fully integrated. In addition, there has been a strong focus in recent years on driving toward the ‘green office’, with the environmental impact of a space placed at the heart of the planning. Both of these are topics worth exploring in greater depth elsewhere, but what they both have in common is that they can only be successful if instigated within an office space which has already been designed and kitted out with maximum flexibility in mind. Creating that kind of office space is what we’ll be look at here. Our own office space in Aberdeen offers tenants a blank and flexible canvas on which they can design and fit-out an environment which is uniquely tailored to the requirements of the business and its employees.

Hybrid Working Challenges

The link between office space and productivity has become even more important in the post-COVID era, thanks to the large scale switch to hybrid working which has taken place. As this switch becomes firmly embedded in the business landscape of the UK, it seems clear that while the days of all employees working every day in the office have long gone, a full-scale shift to home-based working – as some were predicting at the height of the pandemic – has not actually taken place. Hybrid working places many extra demands on employers, but chief amongst them is the need to provide office space which combines flexibility with efficiency. The question of productivity, and how to maximise productivity, lies at the heart of this challenge, and it’s a challenge which becomes more difficult when hybrid working means that parts of an office might be under-occupied on some days of the week and packed with employees at others. The risk of unproductive employees is one which every business needs to guard against – a 2002 study, the Task Management Trends Report, surveyed more than 2,000 professionals and found that only 12.4% were ‘fully contributing’ to the tasks they had to deliver for more than six hours in a working day. While this is likely to be caused by a range of factors above and beyond the physical environment of the office itself, it is that physical environment which provides the backdrop and foundation for everything else a business does.

Open Plan Office Space

There was a time, for example, when open plan offices were heralded as representing the future of the UK working space. The rationale behind the switch from traditional ‘closed’ office spaces to an open plan approach was that it would enable a more collaborative approach to work and enhance employee well-being.

According to a survey carried out by real estate giants Savills, 80% of UK workers operate in open-plan office spaces but, strikingly, only 12% feel that this arrangement increases their productivity, while 37% find it detrimental. Similarly, a 2021 analysis of multiple research papers found that open plan offices were associated with a range of negative outcomes related to employee well-being, touching on productivity, health, job satisfaction and social relationships.



Interestingly, an earlier research study into the topic found that the adoption of an open plan approach to office design had actually fuelled a 70% decrease in the number of face to face interactions among employees and a rise in the use digital tools such as email and instant messaging. What all of this points to is an underlining of the fact that there are no easy solutions to increasing the well-being and productivity of employees through office design or technology, and that a mixture of different approaches is always likely to be the most effective. In terms of office layout, this is likely to combine what is known as ‘broken plan’ office design with the use of individual pods when more privacy and/or concentrated focus is called for.

Flexible Office Spaces

A broken plan approach is one which involves different areas of a larger office space being ‘zoned’ in order to create separate areas for specific functions. The zoning can be based on fairly simple measures such as differentiating through floor and wall finishes or different colour schemes, and many offices now opt to take a modular approach. This involves the use of moveable walls and acoustic dividers, as well as multi-purpose and/or wheeled furnishing in order to create and change zones of work as the need arises. In this way a larger office space can create the kind of light and air offered by the open plan approach, while still enabling employees to work in a more concentrated and ‘closed off’ fashion as and when required.

One step-up from utilising acoustic screens to create defined zones is the use of free standing pods or booths within the wider office space. In most cases pods of this kind will be completely enclosed, creating a space which is not as open as a cubicle but not as large as a private office. Depending upon requirements, pods might contain comfortable chairs and a table to facilitate collaborative work, and facilities such as charging stations and effective Wi-Fi connectivity to allow small groups or single employees to work effectively away from the bustle of the main office. The most advanced pods will be completely soundproofed. This could prove to be particularly useful in those businesses such as law firms in which employees might sometimes have to hold meetings or take phone calls which need to remain completely confidential.

A global study produced by real estate experts CBRE quoted research stating that pods represented the ideal middle ground between working in the office and working at home, as they offer a combination of quiet and private space with the possibility of face to face collaboration and interaction. The same study also stated that having a private space in which to focus was one of the key drivers in persuading employees to accept a hybrid working approach, rather than solely working from home.  The use of pods is also likely to save businesses money in the long term, as it will stop the requirement for large scale office upgrades when the workforce scales up or down. Our own Davidson House office space combines flexibility in terms of the physical surroundings with an equally flexible approach to the leases offered to each tenant, and, as your business grows or changes, will provide a space which can grow and change with you.

Workspace Utilisation

One technological trend which is likely to become more entrenched in response to the flexible use of office space, and solutions such as pods and modular furnishings, is the use of data to drive decisions around workplace utilisation.

In simple terms, with different employees working on location in the office on different days of the week – some for two, some for three and some for four days – it will become more difficult but more important to be able to track who is present and when they are present, in order to avoid overcrowding and the misallocation of facilities, at the same time as maximising productivity. Tech company XY Sense produce regular reports looking at workplace utilisation, and their research indicates that 36% of work zones are never actually occupied, while larger areas, such as dedicated meeting rooms, are only used rarely.

Tech which can monitor the movement of employees through the space of an office, combined with apps which enable them to book spaces such as pods and equipment such as desks in advance will help to avoid congestion and ensure that the space within an office is being used with maximum efficiency.

Work Station Design

From looking at the configuration of the office space as a whole and the use of things like pods, booths and modular spaces, it’s useful to zoom in on the individual work station.

One of the key trends being picked up by businesses keen to enhance the well-being of their employees is a shift away from standard desks and seating and a move to a combination of ergonomic seating and height adjustable desks enabling employees to switch from a sitting to a standing position.

The use of ergonomic seating is something which the majority of office managers are probably already familiar with. According to research published by Yahoo Finance in 2023, the global market for ergonomic chairs is valued at $10.8 billion as of now, and is expected to grow by 6.7% annually in the years up to 2031. This growth is driven by the need for businesses to provide the best possible working environment to tempt the best employees back into the office – chairs which are designed to support the body, improve posture and prevent work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSD).

According to figures published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) there were 473,000 workers in the UK suffering from WMSD in 2022/23, resulting in the loss of 6.6 million working days. Tellingly, WMSD were most prevalent in administrative and support service activities, underlining the need for ergonomic work stations which minimise the risk of ‘fixed or constrained body positions’ and ‘continued repetition of movements’. In other words, the flexibility being applied to the modern office space needs to be embraced by the employees themselves, and the switch to hot-desking and desk-sharing means that all seating needs to be capable of being adjusted to the precise requirements of each individual employee.

Ergonomic Chairs

A review of the available literature on office space and employee health and well-being found that ergonomic chairs work to reduce the physical discomfort of employees, often in conjunction with ergonomic training – in other words, even the very best ergonomic chair is only going to be as effective as possible if the employee in question has been trained in how to sit in it properly. The research to date also shows that active workstations – those which have an exercise bike or treadmill in place of a chair – are likely to help in bringing down the blood pressure and blood glucose levels of the employees using them.

standing and seated desks

Standing Desks

The use of standing desks, or desks which enable the user to vary the height to switch from a sitting to a standing position or vice versa, is often mentioned as a relatively new development in workplace design. The truth of the matter however, is that figures as esteemed and varied as Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill and Ernest Hemingway are all known to have preferred working at standing desks, and the advantages of doing so, at least some of the time, are multiple. According to research published by the British Medical Journal, sedentary behaviour (i.e. spending a large percentage of the working day seated at a desk) is associated with an increased risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, poor mental health and a lower quality of life. It also often has a detrimental impact on vital work related metrics such as engagement and presenteeism.  Research carried out by Loughborough and Leicester Universities was aimed at encouraging office workers to spend less time sitting, using a variety of methods including height adjustable workstations. At the end of a 12 month period, those office workers who had been provided with height adjustable workstations were found to be spending 83 minutes per day lees than their colleagues sitting down while working. They were also found, according to Dr Charlotte Edwardson, Associate Professor from the University of Leicester, to have reported “…. improvements in their work performance, work dedication and engagement, quality of life and reduced levels of sickness presenteeism, feelings of fatigue and musculoskeletal issues, such as lower back pain.” The study also found that 52% per cent of those who used standing desks felt more engaged at work after a year due to a significant improvement in their mood and energy.

The combination of a flexible approach to the use of space within an office and a focus on the physical well-being of individual employees is likely to create an environment which encourages employees to return to the office on a hybrid work basis, and foster an atmosphere in which mental as well as physical health is boosted and productivity improves.